mentoring for everyone

We see more and more focus on mentoring, it just makes good business sense to invest in the staff you already have. For most companies, growing the capability/ skill and knowledge of their staff is a combination of on the job learning, coaching and mentoring and actual training and education events. This is often called the 70-20-10 rule, reflecting the amount of skill growth that is predicted from each event (70% – 20% – 10%). Mentoring not only allows for skills to be shared, and company knowledge retained, it also helps to grow workforce cohesion.

I have always enjoyed being mentored (i.e. being a mentee) and being a mentor. In general, and in particular to Women in STEM positions. Not only as a mentee have I received invaluable feedback and suggestions over the years, I have also learned a lot from the mentoring!

Most, and especially senior, staff are only too happy to share some of their experiences. Very rarely will they decline the opportunity if they are asked to help you out. So how do you go about getting yourself a mentor?

Step 1: Objective

First of all, you will need to have an idea about what you would like to get out of a mentoring or coaching partnership. Is it to deal with a current issue or question, or are you looking for longer term direction? You will need to be clear on what you want, to make sure you can target the right person to help you along the way for this part of the journey.

By making your objective of the process clear for yourself, you will also be able to provide direction to your mentor. If this is already hard, you may need a mentor to help you to put more clarity in your longer term objectives.

For example “I want to be CEO in 10 years” may not be that helpful, but “define the next step on my journey to a CEO postion” is more constructive and achievable.

Step 2a: Find an “official” mentor

The easiest way is by contacting your HR department, or if you are in a technical discipline, your Discipline Chief. There may already be a programme in place in your company, or they may suggest setting up a programme.

In addition, a large number of professional organisations that you may be (eligible to become) a member of already have mentoring programmes in place.

Most formal mentoring programmes have a fixed duration (like a year), and a written agreement about disclosure of information during mentoring sessions. 

There are often recommended frequencies for catch-ups, as well as templates for the inititial and subsequent conversations.

The objective here is to find you a mentor that is not in your direct reporting line, somebody who can provide an independent view and advice. A good matching process, which includes eg interests and backgrounds, allows you to make the most from these programmes.

Step 2b: Find an “unofficial” mentor

I am personally a great lover of “catch up over a coffee” informal mentoring. Over the years I have approached a range of people who I would like to get advice from, with the offer of a cup of coffee. It could just be about asking feedback on a particularly tricky meeting you just had, or about a staff member you will need to deal with, or an opportunity that has just come to you. As you can understand, very different questions and hence I would approach different people for each of these.

Similarly, people have approached me spontaneously, or via via, asking for advice, and I have been happy to oblige. These could be one-off sessions or multiple catch-ups over months or years.

In this case there is no formal agreement in place, but there is the unwritten agreement to keep the conversations private unless agreed otherwise.

In conclusion

You have to make the first step though, be clear about what you want out of a mentoring relationship and then start looking for a mentor.

You are more likely to have an instant natural “click” with an “unofficial” mentor. However, an official mentorship programme is most likely to expose you to a wider range of alternative views and approaches. Both are very valuable and highly recommended!

Don’t forget your P’s and Q’s, acknowledge the help, time and advice you have been given, and pay it forward when you have the opportunity!

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